Underground history: Cemetery hosts Black History Month tour

Pioneer woman: Susan McKinney Steward, a permanent resident of Green-Wood, was the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree in New York state.

There is no need to dig up the past at this educational event — just drive quietly through it.

On Feb. 22, Green-Wood Cemetery is set to host a Black History Month trolley tour, which will pay tribute to former slaves, abolitionists, and artists who are buried in the massive city of the deceased.

“We have a range of fascinating individuals,” said cemetery historian Jeff Richman, who will lead the excursion.

Patrons will follow Richman as he tells the stories of two-dozen visionaries entombed in the 19th century burial ground, including abolitionist and prison reformer Isaac Hopper, who helped violinist-turned-slave Solomon Northrop publish his memoir “Twelve Years a Slave.” Other highlights include Dr. Susan Smith McKinney-Steward, the first black female doctor in the state, and Margaret Franks, a slave who purchased her husband’s freedom after she herself was emancipated.

“A tour like this allows me to learn and get the information out there to people who are interested,” said Richman, who has been the graveyard’s historical guru since 2006. “We have a number of famous people.”

The cemetery has been trying to pull together a tour of this kind for several years, but with over half a million dead residents, it has not been so easy to create a catalog of heroes specific to Black History Month. But by consulting the census and other records, Richman and the Green-Wood team eventually compiled an archive of both renowned and lesser-known residents who shaped American history for the better.

“These men and women were true visionaries and leaders,” Green-Wood head Richard J. Moylan said in a statement. “Their extraordinary contributions shaped our nation’s history and it is our mission at historic Green-Wood to honor these remarkable individuals to keep their history alive for generations to come.”

“Black History Month Trolley Tour” at the Green-Wood Cemetery [500 25th St. in Greenwood Heights, (718) 210–3080, www.green-wood.com]. Feb. 22 at 1 pm. $20, $15 for members of the Green-Wood Historic Fund.

Reach reporter Megan Riesz at mriesz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.

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